Thursday, August 8, 2013

The reluctant cornholer

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Before coming to Charlotte, I associated cornhole with frat boys and football tailgates, neither of which I particularly care for. As time passed, however, it didn't take long to realize that cornhole is a pretty big deal to more than just bros. But here was my problem: Long ago I swore off anything involving competition or athletic coordination, of which I have none.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago when I had my ever-so-slightly inebriated revelation: Cornhole is a great excuse to talk to strangers, and it really doesn't take that much coordination.

  • Flickr (Creative Commons)

"You don't have to be physically fit to be able to play it," said Janeen Bradley, who works at Jackalope Jack's, comforting my fears of drunken humiliation. "You don't even have to be sober to play it. It's an easy game for people who aren't exactly in their prime."

Called "baggo" in other areas of the country to avoid the uncomfortable double entendre, the rules of the game are fairly simple. Your teammate stands at the opposite board and faces you. You each get a small bean bag, and the goal is to be the first team to score 21. Getting a bag in the hole is 3 points, landing on the board is 1, and points "cancel" out. In other words,if your team gets 4 points and the other team gets 3, the score is 1-0.

While the origins of the game are unclear, no one actually seems to care. It became popular in Cincinnati, where a string of tournaments were held in 2005, said Eric Ryder, who plays competitively and is the cornhole director of Charlotte's Bar Athletes (yes, that's a thing).

The N.C. Music Factory's VBGB has six sets of boards, which owner Tom Taddeo said are constantly in use. "It's entertaining, of course. It's a simple sport ... You can also hold your beer in one hand, which is a big part of it," he joked.

The game is becoming so popular that tournaments around town can draw 20 or 30 people - just on a weeknight.

"Over the past two years has it exploded [in Charlotte] ... once word got around that bars could run these tournaments on a weekly basis," Ryder said.

Nightly tournaments can be played for cash, up to several hundred dollars in some cases. A large tournament, like the Carolinas Cornhole Tour, held in the Epicentre August 16 and 17, can payout thousands (the winner of the Cornole Tour gets $4,000).

It's a game that doesn't come with the pressure to play intensely. Ryder said most seasoned vets are willing to help newbies, and some tournaments and games offer anyone unfamiliar with cornhole the option of entering a blind draw to pair up with more experienced players. "It gives people the opportunity to get to know the bar and get to meet new people," Ryder said.

While he calmed my anxiety over the idea of performing athletically in public, it probably will still take an extra shot (or two) until I'm brave enough to show off my cornhole skills, despite how friendly the other players are. Only time and the strength of my blood alcohol content will tell.

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